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Posted by on Nov 28, 2013 in Anatomy & Physiology, Body & Mind | 0 comments

Myofascial Release Using the Foam Roller

Myofascial Release Using the Foam Roller

What is myofascial release?

The word ‘myo’ means muscle and ‘fascia’ means band.  Fascia is a strong but very flexible connective tissue which envelopes every structure (organs, muscles, tendons, bones) of the body, providing support and protection.

The myofascia can get tears in them and if they don’t heal properly, the various layers of fascia can cause adhesions.  These adhesions stop the muscles working as freely and easily as they should which can then cause pain and discomfort.

Myofascial release is a manual therapy used in the treatment and rehabilitation of muscle and fascial tension.

What are the benefits of it?

The main benefit of Myofascial release is that it will help to release the adhesions but there are other benefits too, including:

Helps to disperse knots and tightness in your muscles

Helps prevent injuries

Helps with increasing the range of motion of joints

Helps to relieve muscle soreness

Using the foam roller

The foam roller can be used for self-myofascial release.  By performing self-myofascial release techniques on a foam roller, you will be able to help release tight fascia and encourage the muscles to become fully functional again.

The release techniques on the foam roller involve rolling each muscle group over the foam roller until a tight or tender area is found.  When the tight spot has been identified, pressure of your own body mass should be held on the area for 30-60 seconds until the muscle begins to release.

The following areas often have tight spots:

Piriformis – The piriformis muscle is a pear-shaped muscle located in the gluteal region.  Begin by sitting on the foam roller, have one hand resting on the floor behind you for support.  Cross one foot over the opposite knee and start to roll on the posterior hip area.  The stretch can be increased by using your free hand to pull the knee toward the opposite shoulder.

Hamstrings – Place the hamstrings on the roller and use the hands behind you to keep the hips off the floor.  Roll from the knee to the hip.  Try turning the legs out from the hip and in from the hip to massage all the areas.

Rhomboids – The rhomboids are a skeletal muscle which helps to support the scapula.  Place your upper back on the roller and cross the arms to the opposite shoulder.  Engage the core muscles and lift the hips, keep the head in a neutral position.  Roll the mid back area over the roller.  You can also move gently to each side.

The Lumbar Region

It is not recommended to use a foam roller on the lumbar spine.  This is because the diameter of the foam roller makes it very difficult for most people to control the position of the lower back and it will often increase the lordosis in the lower back.  In this excessive lordotic position, there is increased pressure on the vertebrae and discs.

The muscles in the lumbar region can benefit from myofascial release but it is important to use a more suitable piece of equipment such as a tennis ball.

(Images for this post were ‘borrowed’ from www.healthandcare.co.uk)

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Posted by on Oct 5, 2013 in Featured, Pilates, Repertoire | 0 comments

Pilates Footwork on the Reformer

Pilates Footwork on the Reformer

The Pilates footwork on the Reformer is a fundamental section in a Pilates workout.  Footwork is often the first series of exercises to be taught on the reformer but despite this it shouldn’t be mistaken for a basic exercise.

Although called footwork, it actually encompasses the whole body; in particular the spine and pelvic position and of course, the legs.  For those horsey people amongst us, I am sure you have heard the expression “no foot, no horse” and it’s no different for us!

Footwork on the reformer is simple yet powerful and for a teacher, provides great insight to the client’s imbalances.  The footwork enables the client to develop correct foot, ankle, knee, leg and hip alignment.  It will also develop strength and flexibility in these areas.  This makes it a perfect exercise for both prevention and rehabilitation of injuries to the lower limbs which are aided further by the varying levels of spring resistance on the reformer.

Footwork Exercise I: Toes

This exercise can be carried out with the feet in parallel or in a Pilates V position (heels together, toes apart).  The toes – all of them! – should be on the bar and the heels lifted so you are on your tip toes.  The heels should stay in the highest possible lifted position as the carriage is moved in and out.  It is tempting to allow the heels to lower as you straighten the leg, this should be avoided as the legs are not then receiving the full stretch and benefit of the exercise.

Footwork Exercise II: Arches

In my experience many clients find this footwork position one of the most challenging.  In this exercise the arches of the foot are placed on the foot bar and the feet are in parallel.  The heels of the feet should be reaching under the bar and the toes should be gently reaching over the top of the foot bar, being careful not to scrunch the toes up.  You should feel a stretch through the soles of the feet which should be maintained throughout the exercise.

Footwork Exercise III: Heels

In this exercise the heels are placed on the bar and the toes should be in a straight line.  Sometimes it is taught that the toes should be pulling back toward the body and sometimes that the toes be lengthened toward the ceiling.  Neither is incorrect, it depends what you want to achieve with the exercise.

In this case we keep the toes lengthened toward the ceiling.  The foot needs to stay still as if you are standing on the floor, while the ankle, knee and hip joints should hinge as the legs glide in and out.

Footwork Exercise IV: Lift/Lower

This is a fab exercise and enables the client to feel a good stretch through the front and back of the leg.  With the feet in a parallel (or sometimes V position) and heels lifted, the legs are straightened.  Then whilst keeping the legs straight (but ensuring the knees are not locked), the heels are dropped under the bar.  As well as feeling a nice hamstring stretch, a stretch through the sole of the foot should also be felt.  When returning to the start position the heels should be lifted.

There are many variations in the footwork but they all work to strengthen and align the body.  Our poor feet take a lot of mistreatment from the shoes we wear and our daily lives and are often a little neglected and taken for granted!  However they deserve our full attention sometimes and the benefits of the Pilates footwork series will be felt throughout the whole body.

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Posted by on Jul 11, 2013 in Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

The Pilates Roll Down

The Pilates Roll Down

Although not one of the original Pilates exercises, the Roll Down is one of the most basic exercises and can highlight many weakness or imbalances within the body.  I will very often use the Pilates Roll Down (as opposed to a yoga roll down) as a warm up exercise in my classes and is a super exercise for improving spine and back mobility.

Caution: The Roll Down is not suitable for everyone, particularly where there is osteopeonia or osteoporosis of the spine.  Not suitable for advanced stages of pregnancy.  If you are unsure if a roll down is a suitable exercise for you then do not do it.

How to do a Pilates Roll Down

Everyone has their own version of a Pilates roll down and this is mine.

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart.  The knees should be soft and not ‘locked’.  The natural curves of the spine should be present, with your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles stacked on top of one another.  There should be a lengthened feeling to the back of the neck and the eyes looking straight ahead, arms should be relaxed by your side. Breathe laterally thinking about expanding the ribs to the side and back.
  • As you exhale, engage the lower abdominal muscles and lower the chin to the chest.  Make sure there is a gap between the chin and the chest, be careful not to jam the chin down.  Continue to roll down one vertebra at a timestarting from the neck down to the lower back.  Try to feel each vertebra moving as you roll through the spine.
  • As you roll down, be careful not to collapse through the waist, imagine you are rolling up and over a large ball.  Keep the hips over the ankle bones as you roll down.  Your arms and shoulders stay relaxed.
  • Roll through the spine until the back is making a nice long C-curve shape.  You will feel a stretch through the lower back.  In this position, focus on your breathing again and imagine you are puffing up the lower back muscles with your breath.  Hold the stretch there for three deep breaths.
  • Exhale and engage your abdominal muscles and start to stack the vertebra, slowly coming up to standing.  As you roll up, remember to keep the hips over the ankle joints and be careful not to take all the weight into your heels.  Gradually return to your start position imagining you have created space in between each vertebra.

During your roll down, take care to notice what is happening in your body.  Do you start to stand more on one foot than the other?  Do your feet roll in or out?  Do you feel big chunks of the spine roll down or up at once?  Does a particular part of your back feel more of a stretch?  By noticing these things you become mindful of your body and can start to make the changes needed to create a better posture.

As you do this exercise it may help to imagine you are pressing your back into a wall (but keep the natural curves of the spine).  The head rolls forward and pulls the body away from the wall, little by little.

Please note that if you have very tight hamstrings then you may want to bend the knees a little more to make it more comfortable.

After completing four or five of these roll downs, you should start to feel looser through your spine.  These are a great way to start or end a day!

(Archival image of J Pilates)

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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Featured, Health, Pilates | 0 comments

7 Minute Workout v Pilates

7 Minute Workout v Pilates

With everyone being so short on time these days, a seven minute work out to get you fit is surely a good thing.  Right?  Well, it’s not quite so simple but it isn’t a bad place to start.

What is the 7 Minute Workout?

The 7 minute workout was devised by the Human Performance Institute in Orlando.  It follows the principles of ‘interval training’ where you do a period of high intensity exercise followed by a period of rest.  The 7 minute workout is a series of 12 exercises.  You do each exercise for 30 seconds and have 10 seconds rest after each one.

Will I really get fit in 7 Minutes?

For most of us we will need to repeat the workout two or three times to get maximum results.  This is because we can’t usually perform the exercises at a high enough intensity to produce the benefits according to an article in American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.

The Exercises

The exercises in the 7 minute workout are:

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. Wall Sit
  3. Push Ups
  4. Abdominal Crunches
  5. Step Ups
  6. Squats
  7. Triceps Dips
  8. The Plank
  9. High Knees
  10. Lunges
  11. Push Ups & Rotations
  12. Side Plank

Some of the exercises are cardiovascular to keep the heart pumping whilst some of the other exercises are static exercises.  It is important to do the exercises in the given order because the exercises focus on different muscle groups and each muscle group will have a chance to ‘rest’.

Pilates

If you already practise Pilates or Yoga then several of the exercises will already be familiar to you.   For example:

  • The abdominal crunches would be the Pilates Ab Prep;
  • Push Ups are one of the original classical exercises;
  • Triceps dips are often performed on the Wundachair;
  • Leg Pull Front involves the Plank;
  • The Twist is similar to the Push Ups and Rotations;
  • Side bend is similar to the Side Plank

Joseph Pilates created his classical mat work repertoire of 34 exercises and they are designed to follow a set order too.  This is because the order he developed warms up the body (the first exercise is the hundreds), challenges the body and then cools it down.  His exercises are a workout for the body and mind and an average person will find that going through the full repertoire – or even just half – can be tough if they give it 100%.

In the Pilates repertoire there are not any cardiovascular exercises as such.  The Pilates method of breathing combined with his exercises are enough to get the blood pumping through the system.

The Verdict

There are pros and cons for both forms of exercise but it isn’t a case of only being allowed to do one.  There is no reason why you couldn’t do both Pilates and the 7 minute workout.

As a Pilates teacher I believe there is much more to gain for both mind and body by practising Pilates.  If however you just want to get a bit fitter then the 7 minute workout could be suitable.  Pilates can be adapted in numerous ways so it is a form of exercise suitable for everyone.  The 7 minute workout is not so easy to modify and if you have never exercised or not done so in a while then it is a tough workout, possibly too tough for a complete beginner.

Additionally, some of the exercises in the 7 minute workout have the potential to cause back problems if they are not carried out correctly.  The plank is a good example of this as if the abdominal muscles are not engaged then the lower back will take the strain of the exercise.  In a good Pilates class you will be taught the right technique and given modifications if your body is not quite up to the full exercise.

My verdict?  I personally think Pilates overall provides a superior body and mind workout.  As well as a fit and toned body, I believe there is much more to be gained from practising Pilates.  That said, if the exercises in the 7 minute workout are followed safely and correctly it should improve your fitness levels.

Have you tried Pilates or the 7 minute workout?  Let me know what you think!

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Beginners, Body & Mind, Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates – Mindfulness in Movement?

Pilates – Mindfulness in Movement?

“The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is complete co-ordination of body, mind and spirit”. Joseph Pilates

 

What is Mindfulness?

Have you ever turned on the television to watch a program and then become distracted by thoughts about your day, problems, life, etc and realised you haven’t seen or heard anything of the program you sat down to watch?

Or had a conversation with a friend but halfway through realise that you haven’t been listening and can’t remember what they said?

Or driven somewhere on ‘autopilot’?

Or ‘switching-off’ to a person, noise, etc?

Most of us have done this at one time or another and they are great examples of being ‘mindless’.  When we are mindless, we are not concentrating on the task in hand, our mind is elsewhere.

So what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness can be described as being in the present, being in the moment or just ‘being’.  It is focusing your mind on the here and now, not thinking about what to have for dinner later, or that piece of work you need to get finished.

Being mindful allows us to tune in to what it is we are doing.  It allows us to experience every moment fully.  It allows us to experience every moment using all of our senses; seeing, hearing and feeling every moment.

Pilates and Mindfulness

Pilates is a series of slow, defined exercises carried out on both the mat and resistance equipment.  The exercises should be performed correctly, taking the time to establish the technique rather than rushing through them.

Everyone who participates in a Pilates class knows just how much there is to think about; breathing, alignment, using the right muscles and relaxing the others, listening to the instructor and so on.  This can feel a little overwhelming at first but it is normal and will get easier as the body learns the new ways of doing things.  When you are thinking of all those things, you are in the moment, living it and doing it – there is no time to think of anything else!  However, by the end of your class, you will feel energised and calm.

The breathing method used in Pilates exercise encourages relaxation and has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety.  Using the breath will activate and energise the muscles and as you bring your attention to your body, you will be able to execute the movements precisely, with control and mindfulness.

A Mindful Pilates Exercise

  1. Sit tall, lengthening the spine.  Have the feeling of your weight dropping down your seat bones and the crown of your head lengthening upward.  Place your hands around the lower part of your ribcage towards the back.
  2. Inhale through your nose, focusing your breath to your back and the sides of your ribcage.  You will feel your hands being gently pushed out as the sides and back of your ribs expand.
  3. Exhale through your mouth ensuring there is no tightness through the jaw.  As you exhale, you will feel your back retreat away from your hands as the ribs compress.  When you exhale, ensure that you expel every drop of air from the lungs and try to keep the abdominal muscles contracted.
  4. This time, as you inhale imagine that you are taking the breath to the left side of your lower back and ribcage.  What did you feel?  You will find that the left side expands more as your focus and awareness has been taken to that area.  Repeat this on your right side.

This simple exercise shows just how much control we have over our body when we are mindful.  What else can we achieve by incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives?

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